Talking Sport: I came close to death at Hillsborough

Fans spill on to the pitch at Hillsborough
Fans spill on to the pitch at Hillsborough

As I observed a minute’s silence along with both players, officials and fans before the Widnes Vikings-Saints Super League clash at the Select Security Stadium on Easter Monday a shiver went down my spine - and with good reason.

The silent tribute - in respect of the 96 Liverpool fans who died in the Hillsborough disaster 25 years ago - brought back traumatic memories and the thought that I could so easily have been one of the victims.

I will never know how close I came but the fact that 12 months earlier when the same two clubs, Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, had met at Sheffield in the semi-final stage of the FA Cup I had been standing of the jam-packed Leppings Lane central terracing and what I learned that day is maybe why I’m able to write this column today.

On entering the ground my two friends, who had accompanied me to the match, pointed to the long dark central tunnel at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium and said: “Let’s go down there.”

But recalling my experience the previous year, I replied: “I went down there 12 months ago and nearly got crushed to death.”

Those words still haunt me today...

The Rugby League rulers are apparently about to show sense - and bring the curtain down on the two-match Easter programme. OK some of the lesser well-off clubs will regret losing the kind of revenue generated by the Bank Holiday double-header but I’ll tell you what it will come as a blessing in disguise for the coaches and their players.

It will ensure that bosses like Saints’ Nathan Brown will not be forced to make wholesale changes to his team, as he did against Widnes on Monday just a few days after a high tempo derby clash with Wigan and ahead of this weekend’s a crucial Tetley’s Challenge Cup at Leeds.

No one can blame him for prioritising his fixtures - every coach would do likewise in the same circumstances - but at the same time neither is fielding below strength sides fair on the fans who pay their money in anticipation of

watching the best Super League can offer.

Change the structure of the competition and neither the clubs nor the fans will have cause for complaint. It’s so simple, I don’t know why it has taken so long to get this far.